Dad’s Story Part 9

The next morning, after what was, and still is, the most emotional day of my life, I awoke to a new strength.  Actually it wasn’t strength, it was numbness.  It was as if the Stepford Wives came over sometime in the night and made me part of their club.  I glided through that next day on some sort of creepy ability to continue on.

It was actually a day of nothingness. Earlier the doctor had explained that it could be hours or days…all that we could do was wait.  I arrived at the hospital to find friends and family there to say their last good byes to Dad and to console us, the ones he was leaving behind.  I felt like I spent the entire day in some kind of trance of politeness.  Not that I wanted to be impolite, but I didn’t want to rock that boat of emotion.

It was kind of a day of mental and emotional rest.  The calm before yet another storm.  We basically just hung around the hospital taking turns escorting visitors into the ICU that wanted to have words with Dad….It’s really a haze…as is so much.  But this day, a Saturday, was especially…well…boring.

We needed boring.


After hours of being useless at the hospital I returned home.  That night I think I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with Donnie, my dad’s best buddy.  This man is what got me through this hell.   I was beginning to realize that he would be the closest thing to a father I would have left.  It’s like my dad was leaving his body and sneaking into Donnie’s shirt pocket…just hanging out and whispering the right things into Donnie’s ear that I needed to hear.

And the funny thing is, he told me when I spoke I sounded “just like Randy!”

Most is a blur, but I can still hear Donnie tell me this.  The way he said it was burned into my burned out brain. It wasn’t the sound of my voice, he said, but the things I said and the way I said them.  We both took comfort in all of this. We clung to each other, even if it was just over the phone.

Of all of the crazy, silly, annoying and wonderful gifts my father has given me, Donnie is my favorite.


The next day my dad died.

How’s that for a smoothly written transition?  I mean, we all know he doesn’t make it…that he does, in fact, die.    And well, my dad once got all over my case when I was freaking out about having to tell my children about a family friend who suddenly passed away.  He was someone they hung out with a few times a week and had a great time with.  Boom.  He’s gone.  Thinking that he would have a lot of sympathy for me as a mom having to possibly break her babies’ hearts, I went to my dad for some fatherly advice on the best way to do this.  He looked at me like I was a nut.

“Just tell them, J.”

“ But how????? What do I say??? “

“J….(that’s what he called me…J)….say…the guy’s dead. That’s it. They are kids.  They will learn from this, that its part of life…don’t beat around the bush, just say it!

{{Can you imagine if I took this advice about him????!!!????  ”Hey boys, your Grampy is dead.  Who wants ice cream?”}}

Well, long story short…after fretting about it all day, that evening after dinner I gathered the boys on the couch and told them that their buddy who works in the hockey shop at the ice rink suddenly died the night before.  There was a long moment of silence before my littlest one perked up and said, “Well who’s going to run the shop now????”


I couldn’t wait to call my dad.



The morning my dad died I got up to the hospital and discovered he had been moved from the ICU to “step-down” unit.  In other words, the There’s-Nothing-Left-To-Do-But-Wait Unit.  Overnight he went from looking pretty-crappy-and-unhealthy to knocking-on-deaths-door-bad.  He was asleep but breathing rapidly through his open mouth.  His hair was really dull and suddenly greyer. He had not been shaven in days and was quite scruffy.  I think he lost 10 more pounds too.  His body was screaming, “ This is what cancer looks like!!!”  I’m not sure if it showed on the outside, but when I laid my eyes on him as I walked in the room my entire insides cringed. He looked horribly ugly. My dad, although still physically alive, was gone.


Time pretty much flew, yet dragged on.  We just all sat around the room talking quietly.  All of the visitors were gone.  It was just the immediate family, minus my brother, Joel.  Joel, as already planned for months, was moving out of his parents’ home for the first time into his own apartment.  He had talked to our father about this earlier and Dad thought things should go as planned…since nothing else was!  This day, Joel was moving out and on with his life….as Dad would have wanted. It was time.

Dad called us kids his “birds”. He waited just long enough for another bird, the final one, to leave the nest.


Killing time.

That’s what we were doing.

That’s what time was also doing.

I just wanted to scream at someone to make it all stop.  Stop the hurting. Stop the sadness lurking in every corner of the room.  Stop the quiet. Stop the waiting.  Stop the breathing.  Dad was gone…the cancer was all that was left breathing in his body.

Make it stop.


Sometime in the afternoon we all decided to take a break from the nothingness and go grab something to eat and make some necessary phone calls.  My brother, Mike, stayed behind with our Dad to keep him company although I sensed Mike just needed some time to himself with him.  We all kind of went our separate directions for an hour or so.

There was still talk of taking Dad home in an ambulance for Hospice care…so he could die at home.  But I knew he wouldn’t make it.  But still, I made a call to a friend who could help in this situation.  After speaking with her I called Donnie.  He lived hours away and we knew that him trying to race up there to see Dad would be in vain.  He wouldn’t make it.  We decided it was best for him to stay put and  just come out for the funeral.  I couldn’t wait to see him…but I also didn’t want to have to.

I had just hung up with Donnie and was just sitting there motionless. I remember quite vividly sitting in the corner of the hospital cafeteria’s patio seeing my sister across the way talking on her phone.  I remember catching a glimpse of my youngest brother walking through the lobby to the elevators, not knowing I was watching him. Everything was slowed down and quiet.  I could hear the blood rushing through my veins.  I felt as if I was underwater.

Then Mike texted me.  It said “Get up here”.

Michelle got one too.

As I gathered my stuff only I got another text.

“Dad’s gone.”


Yeah. I found out my dad had died through a text.  Gotta love modern technology.  At first I was a bit taken back by the coldness of it from Mike.  A text?  But you know what? He was preparing me so that I could be ready to support the rest of the gang…a heads up so to say.  As Michelle and I raced to the elevator I put on my “I’ve got this” mask.

At the same time Debbie and her parents and my grandma were dashing through the lobby towards the same elevator…perfect timing.  We all crammed in and that’s when Debbie started to crumble.  I don’t know what got into me but I stepped over to her, grabbed her hand, and said something along the lines of, “Deb, you have to be strong…remember…you’re ready? It’s all going to be okay. We can do this.” I said it rather sternly and full of confidence.

I have no idea where that came from.  It sure as hell wasn’t me talking was it?

Debbie’s head jerked up and she looked right at me, stronger than I’ve ever seen her and she said, “Okay.”

As soon as the elevator doors opened we spilled out and rushed to Dad’s room.

It was very clear that he was gone.

For a split second time froze.




Then chaos…Debbie crying, Grandma crying, Joel sobbing. Debbie’s parents clinging to each other as they are forced to watch their child endure such horrific sorrow and there was nothing they could do about it.  Pure emotional chaos.

Mike, Michelle, and I just stood back not sure what to do.  It’s really blurry here.  Bits and pieces of it shoot through my brain like a quick dream just before the alarm buzzes.  I saw it, sensed it, felt it but had no idea what was happening.

After a bit, when everyone had pulled themselves together, we each took a moment with dad. I watched my grandma, his mom, fiddle with his hair like he was a toddler again.  I watched Debbie, his wife, kiss his warm cheek for the last time.  I watched my baby brother, Joel, weep so hard he trembled.

I remember him clearly and I hate it.  I hate what I remember.  It wasn’t him.  It didn’t look like him or smell like him or feel like him.  I want to erase that memory from my mind.  I only want to be able to remember him as he was when I was 5 and we got kicked off the dance floor for being too wild and crazy (true story.) I only want to remember him dressed in his Levis, hard hat, work boots, and tool belt.  I only want to remember him sitting in the black wood sided station wagon blasting his music and waving frantically to me as he picked me up in front of my high school (the man would be parked 10 feet from me and do this. Seriously.) I  want to remember the look on his face when he gave my children annoying as hell gifts just to annoy the hell out of me.

I think I’ve used the word “blur” at least 58 times so far in writing all of this.  I wish more parts were a blur. Especially this part.  I don’t want to remember what’s filling my head right now. I don’t want to remember the end.


Most of us weren’t there when he took that last breath.  We think he wanted it that way.  He waited for us to let down our guard.

He was a man who knew how to make a grand entrance.

But for his exit….he went quietly out the back.


Later Mike shared with us what had been happening while we were having lunch and taking care of the things we needed to do.  He said that he was just “chillin’” and playing games on his phone.  Suddenly his phone’s battery died and he was left with nothing much to do but listen to Dad breathe.  As Mike began talking to Dad the breathing changed. It got slower.  Mike said he started singing to him and again, the breathing slowed. Relaxed.  I’m not sure how long this went on but things were really starting to slow down and Mike knew it was the end.  As Joel walked in the door, Dad drew his last breath and was gone.

A moment later, Mike sent me that text.  His phone, without being charged had suddenly come back to life.  We really can’t explain how this happened.  But it did.  The dead battery gave Mike a few precious moments with our dad.


To be honest, I really don’t know how to end this part of the story…how to transition out.

And really, I don’t ever think I will transition.

You know, back at the beginning, just two weeks before, Mike had gone in to see Dad for the first time after surgery.  He was just waking up from the anesthesia and as Mike began to consul him Dad said, “It is what it is, Man.”

Yes, it is.


2 responses »

  1. The beauty of your writing is a wondeful tribute to your father. It brings tears to my eyes knowing he was so loved by his children (and the rest of us). He will always be in our thoughts and our hearts. I wish I would have been a better brother to him. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess. It is what it is. Strong words.

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